By Mike & Lorraine Eyer
Phoenix area churches have an opportunity to join in a ministry to asylum seeking refugees from Central America who are being released from detention into the community.
Courts have ruled that children may not be held in ICE detention facilities longer than 20 days and must be released. This led several months ago to releases near bus stations of groups of up to 200 asylum-seeking refugees. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) then contacted Phoenix and Tucson area churches and invited churches to receive and assist refugees pending hearings on the asylum applications. Several churches (perhaps 6 or 7) responded positively and arranged to receive refugees. The churches have established a loose network of communication and mutual support and arranged a rough schedule when they would receive buses. The churches are located throughout the valley – from Avondale to Mesa.
These family units have requested asylum in the United States based on circumstances in their home countries, have been registered and documented (fingerprints, photographs, etc) by ICE, and have been issued instructions for appearing in a court regarding their asylum application. They are legally released into the U.S. and have permission to remain in the country pending their asylum hearings. They have permission to travel in the U.S.
Volunteers are needed to assist with several needs – greeting refugees as they exit ICE buses, providing a hot meal on arrival, arranging donations of clothing, and occasional hosting of families not having family members or contacts in the U.S. More host churches are needed as the handful of hosting churches are stretched to the limit.
Stay in host churches is short-term. Spanish-speaking volunteers are working to parents even as they arrive to connect them with longer-term stays – relatives, friends, or volunteer hosts – and most will be on buses within a day of release by ICE